Archive for December, 2014

Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany B 2015

December 28, 2014

The Epiphany of the Lord, Year B 2015

St. Paul talk to the Ephesians today about the mystery that had been  made known to him by Revelation. It was something that no one ever understood before, and that was that God had now invited non-Jews into what had been the birthright only of the Hebrew nation. All these years God had chosen only one people as his heirs, but now he was opening his kingdom up to all people. This revelation was indeed an ‘epiphany’ for Paul, if by the word epiphany we mean “seeing the light” and coming to a new understanding. As a practicing and devout Jew Paul had taken pride in the fact that he was among the chosen people and had been very strict in his following of the letter of the law of the Jewish commandments, not admitting even free thinkers into that company. That was why he had persecuted the early church. But Paul literally saw the light on one of his journeys, and was thrown off a horse and blinded by it. And in that epiphany, he saw Christ and learned that he was to open the gate to the Gentiles allowing them to become the chosen people of God.

While the feast of the Epiphany we celebrate today isn’t about Paul’s own epiphany, it is quite fitting that this reading was chosen because the Gospel today describes an Epiphany in which men who were not Jews but probably astrologers, saw in the sky a star or a falling star which they believed heralded the birth of someone who would change the world as they knew it. They sought out this person in the story we hear today, following the trajectory of the star and arriving in Judea sought this person. It came to the attention of King Herod who was fearful of someone removing him from the throne, especially since his own counsellors recount the prophecies of the prophets, like Isaiah, telling of this event.

There were, of course, prophets who talked about all the nations worshipping the one Hebrew God. The first reading we have of the prophet Isaiah today is probably the most influential of these. The idea of seeing the light is expressed as God’s glory shining in the darkness, and because of this, kings and nations shall realize that God exists, and all shall come to God.

In the Gospel today the wise men from the East are possibly used by Matthew to express the truth that Christ, by his Incarnation, has started the process whereby all men and women can be the heirs of God. By using the references to Isaiah and creating the Kings who bring gold, frankincense and myrrh to the child, Matthew is able to tie in the non-literal prophecy of Isaiah with he reality that he wants to present – that this child was to redeem all people, and with his death, salvation was open to all nations. It is interesting that Matthew added myrrh to the story – you may have noted that in Isaiah the kings just bring gold and frankincense. The myrrh is an important addition because myrrh was used in the embalming of someone, and it is Matthew’s way of preparing the reader of the death and sacrifice which was to com in his story.

It is not important whether or not we believe there were actually three wise men or not because it is the truth behind the story that we need to get to in order to have the Gospel affect out own lives. The truth is that God has sent Jesus, the light that shines in darkness, to bring about the salvation of all the world. The truth is that we have been saved, that we have been given a gift that we don’t even deserve, all because God has chosen us, and in his infinite mercy and seen fir to reward us this way. It is not that we have been good and so have been rewarded, but actually the reverse. We have been rewarded not for anything we have done, but must now express our thanks by acting in a good way. As usual, God has reversed the human way of thinking and interacting.

If we get anything from the feast of the Epiphany today, I hope it is that we need to express our thanks to God more often, we need to realize that in trying every day to be a better, more perfect human being, we are just reciprocating what God has done to us. It is a different way of thinking about things – and so, maybe we all can have an epiphany of sorts today as well, as we look at our relationship with God in a new light.

And this is the bright and glorious Good News I present to you today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

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Two Homilies for Christmas 2015 (Midnight and During Day)

December 21, 2014

1. Homily for the Feast of Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord  (At night) 2014-15

“The Angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.” I read somewhere that the phrase “Do not be afraid” occurs around over 100 times in the Bible. There is a lot of fearfulness going round, and you might think it strange that I would choose the theme of fear to talk about this evening. But I think it is a really important concept with regard to Christmas.

Ancient people, more so than today, were afraid of the dark. Today we protect ourselves from the dark and so we may not be quite as fearful, but darkness was always something to be frightened about throughout history.

So when Isaiah calls us a people of darkness in the first reading, one of the images that connotes is that we are a fearful people. And though now we have night lights to protect us from the dark, we are today still a very fearful people. Our world has become very complex in its global boundaries. We find ourselves being drawn in by the exaggerations and fear mongering of the media, for example. Ebola was one such issue this year.

And if we don’t worry about dying from some horrible disease or catching it when we travel, we may worry about the state of the economy, the loss of our jobs, the fear of a penniless retirement, constant anxiety about our health and the high cost of maintaining it. God knows there are so many things to be fearful of today.

The world was smaller for Mary and Joseph, yet they had their worries in the Gospel stories: what would Joseph do when he discovered Mary was pregnant, how would they get all the way to Bethlehem to be registered, and where would they stay, what if she delivered the baby wile they traveled, and even after tonight’s section, would the child be murdered by Herod, how could they leave everything and flee into Egypt?

Fear can occupy our minds and the media preys on that. But what message are we constantly hearing from God’s word? “Do not be afraid”. “Do not be afraid!”

Listen again to some of the beautiful reminders of this in Scripture:

In Genesis we hear: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)

Moses answered the people in Exodus: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance…” (Exodus 14:13)

Again in Deuteronomy we are told: “Do not be afraid; for the Lord God goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31.6)

“Then the Lord said to Joshua, in the Book of Joshua: “Do not be afraid of them. I have given them into your hand.” (Joshua 10:18)

And in Chronicles we are admonished: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you” (1 Chronicles 28.20)

The Psalms use it many times. “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Ps 23)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom should I fear? (Psalm 27.1)

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. (Psalm 118.6)

Especially in the Prophets like Isaiah we hear: “So do not fear, for I am with you.” Isaiah (41:10)

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you (Isaiah 41:13)

Moving into the New Testament Paul tells us: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear… (Romans 8:15)

And Peter says: “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” (1 Peter 3:14)

And finally John summarizes: “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1 John 4:18

I could go on and on, and still haven’t gotten to the many times in the Gospels that Jesus himself tells us not to be afraid and offers us his peace.

So, all through Bible history, this recurring theme has been one of casting aside our fears because we walk with God, and that is why on this Christmas Eve we celebrate the actuality of the promise and the request made of us by our God: Do not be afraid.

Why? Why do we no longer need to be afraid? Because to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord. God has provided because he is now incarnate, God is with us in the person of Jesus. This little child, this wholly dependent person, this God who has chosen to become one of us because he loves us. And one of the purposes of this is to take away our fear.

And that is one reason that Christmas is for me such a joyous season. If we recognize the immensity of the incarnation, of God becoming a human, we can cast aside our fears, and trust that a ‘history’ of promises has been fulfilled, that Christ is Emmanuel – God with us – and we no longer need to be fearful of anything.

Whenever you look at the image of the Christ child this week, think about how giving yourself up to trust in God’s Son can free s from the many fears that surround us today, and to help us live as Paul has said to Titus today: self-controlled, upright and godly… a people who are zealous for good deeds. If we can do that, we will have no fear for we will know that our reward will continue in the world to come.

A blessed Christmas to all of you, and help spread the Good News, not to be afraid.

2.

Homily for the Feast of Christmas: The Nativity of the Lord  (During the Day) 2014-15

There are four Masses composed for Christmas Day, which really shows how important this feast is to the Church. The first three, the Vigil, Midnight Mass and Mass at Dawn all use the Nativity story that we are so familiar with regarding the birth of Christ. The fourth, the one we are celebrating during the day today, does not tell that story.  Instead, it draws from the Gospel of St. John, written a decade or so after the other three Gospels, and which takes for granted the birth narrative. What this Gospel does, is raises the story of Christ’s birth to the level of symbol and archetype, and looks at the theological meaning behind the Incarnation, the becoming human, of Jesus.

It is the beginning of his Gospel and is exceptionally poetic in its language. In this prologue John sets out to establish the natural and supernatural, the human and the divine origin of Jesus.

John symbolically says that Jesus is the Word of God. If you remember, the very opening of Genesis in the Bible starts the same way with the words “In the beginning…” and the first thing God does is “says” something. Jesus is then equated with that act of saying, that “word”. He is God, he has always existed with God – Jesus existed before God created, and he was involved in the creation.

It was through the Word, Jesus, that life came to be, including human life. Then immediately, John moves into one of the great themes of his Gospel, the theme of light. In Jesus “was life and the life was the light of the human race .The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

So now what John has done is establish the divine origin of Jesus and so, he moves into the human origin of Jesus. But again, he does not tell a story as do Matthew and Luke, but he talks about Jesus coming into the world as light, a theme which was often in Isaiah when Isaiah talked about a Messiah.

John treats John the Baptist very quickly, only saying that his purpose was to let people know that the light was soon coming. And this light comes into the world as a human being: “and the Word became flesh and lived among us”. God becomes human in order to enlighten the world. Before Jesus they only had the law, but now, John says, with the light they will be able to see that they also have grace and truth, and the way we come to know God, because no one has ever seen God, he says, is to see Jesus – God made visible.

Paul in the letter to the Hebrews says the same theological teaching even before John did: Jesus “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word”. So the Incarnation for both Paul and John is a cosmic event, an event like no other. That is why for them the celebration of Christ’s birth would be so important a feast.

I was never really very good at science but I thought to look up in a lighting book I had, what were the physical qualities of light according to Physics. There were five listed: Intensity, Form, Color, Direction and Movement.

If ‘intensity’ refers to the strength of a light source, we can see that this metaphor in John says that the strength of Jesus’ light is very great for it shines over the whole universe. Isaiah today and our Psalm response says: all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. It is that intensity of light which allows for all people to see and recognize Jesus.

The second quality of light was ‘form’ which allows us to see things in depth and in dimension because it has variances in shades. It is why the whole world can see Jesus but don’t all accept him. They didn’t allow themselves to see his form clearly but allowed interference and shadow, so that John can say: yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.

The third quality is “color”, and light is made up of all the colors, just as Jesus is everything to all people. We used to speak years ago of “glorious” Technicolor. This is the “glory” of which John and Paul speak: “and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only begotten son…”

The fourth quality is ‘direction’, so for example, if you walk around a candle, it sheds light in all directions. John is very clear in terms of direction that Jesus was “the true light, which enlightens everyone.”

And finally, light has ‘movement’ which means it can change. Perhaps it is that metaphoric quality of light which allowed God to change – to become a human child, helpless and insignificant. For John, this becomes the fact that no-one has ever seen God, but the reflection of this child will make known the heart of God the Father.

So it is significant that this fourth Mass of Christmas raises the birth event to new theological heights and puts a perspective on it that has made this prologue to John’s Gospel one of the most stirring and beautiful documents in the Bible.  It may not have the sentimentality and story line of the other two Evangelists, but it can make us better understand why Jesus is the true light and why his coming into the world today is such an important event and always be.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas celebration and hope that the light of Christ can enlighten your hearts and your homes today. And this is the very Good News of the Incarnation that or Gospel writer gives us today.

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

December 14, 2014

Homily for the Fourth  Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

(Bishop Ron’s second volume of “Teaching the Church Year- Cycle B” is now available on amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OSRJST0# )

Today in the book of Samuel we get the story of David who was rewarded for his faithfulness to God and his wanting to build a place to house the traveling ark of the covenant. God declares that he will in return build a house for David as well, but it is a house that will be established after David’s death,  but from his children that house will produce an offspring whose reign will never end. Again, looking backwards as does Paul in the writing to Romans today, the early Christians saw this as the reign of Jesus, A son of David, the secret for long ages which has been disclosed..

The psalm re-iterates this prophecy and promise: “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.”

So that, of course, is the background for our Gospel reading today and why Luke chooses to show the Davidic line of Jesus through Joseph. We have today the familiar story of the angel Gabriel visiting the virgin Mary with the startling announcement that she is to conceive a son, and tells her what to name the child. Gabriel then prophesies that this child, this offspring of David’s line will be great and will be called the Son of God, the offspring of God. He will be the inheritor of David’s throne and covenant, and, in the same words that God used to Nathan, Jesus will be forever the ruler, and his kingdom will never end.

The angel Gabriel appears only three times in Scriptures. He appears to Zechariah in Luke’s Gospel, and to Mary, and in the Hebrew Testament he appears to Daniel. Because the Book of Daniel is so eschatological, which means dealing with death, judgment and the final destiny of mankind, it is appropriate that Gabriel appears here as well since Jesus will reign forever and be the one to come at the end of time.

Only two of the four Gospels have a birth story. Mark was not concerned with the issue and John treated it symbolically. Matthew and Luke retain the same basic facts though the stories are really quite different due to what each wanted to point out. As I stated earlier, Luke’s genealogy goes all the way back to Adam and not just to David. Many of the incidental events around the birth are also different fro each writer as well. Matthew was writing for a primarily Jewish audience while Luke was writing for a Gentile one. This alone shaped what they wanted to show in their stories, and so their emphases are different. Luke also feels that it is important to point out that nothing is impossible with God, especially because the story of the virgin birth is so scientifically absurd.

In just a very few days we celebrate the birth that Mary so amazingly agreed to, with a complete trust in her God. “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to thy will.”

As we make our final preparations for Christmas, let us ponder those words of Mary. For some people Christmas is a difficult season as they remember relatives who have died and won’t be present, or who are alone, or who get upset with all the media hullabaloo going on. Let’s just give in to Jesus this year. Let us be servants of the Lord, accepting the will of God for us. If we can develop that all-encompassing trust of God, knowing that out of all the chaos, misery, suffering, depression, unhappiness that sometimes make up our lives, God has a plan for us, and the ending will be good, despite what it may look like to us now. Trust in his infinite mercy and love. God sent his Son in human form, lowered himself to experience what we experience. He knows our humanity, he partakes of our humanity, and he will empathize with us, and carry us through. That really is the gift we celebrate each Christmas, as we focus on the child, the helpless God in the manger, about to born again in our memories and our liturgies. Let this thought give you peace and a little bit of joy in these hectic last few days, and let us experience the mother’s joy after birth as we welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

And this is the Good News message of trust and peace I want to  leave you with today.

In just a few days we will celebrate the birth that

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]

Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year B, 2014-15

December 7, 2014

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B 2014-15

“REJOICE!”,  the reading from Paul to the Thessalonians begins today! – one of the reasons we wear rose vestments today and light the rose candle, and this seems an odd word in a season of repentance. But Advent is not Lent and the kind of turning back we do in Advent is much different that the sojourn we take with our single lives in Lent. We turn back to prepare ourselves in order that we can welcome the Messiah and welcome the “day of the Lord” that he brings with him. In that world we can, as Paul says, rejoice, not just today but always, pray unceasingly and give thanks for everything. That is the life of a Christian after the coming of Christ. The advise of Paul to day today to us is wonderful advice: let us not quench the Spirit inside us, let us not throw away the Hebrew Testament but take what is good from it, and try our best to stay away from every type of evil. We will have Jesus’ help in doing this. Very hopeful words.

And Jesus will help us with this. One of the verses of Isaiah that Jesus quotes is the opening verse today is: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me” and “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives…to release the prisoners and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The spirit of God was in Jesus and it is in us as well, his gift to us to help us as we struggle through our lives, trying to ready for the day of the Lord which has begun but isn’t totally here yet. Some days we feel getting to that day has a long way to go, don’t we!

In place of the Psalm today the liturgy gives us the beautiful prayer of Mary who was facing a whole lot of trouble, a birth when she was unmarried, fear of what would happen. But she doesn’t get down. In fact, she trusts God’s plan for her, and her Magnificat is reminiscent of the person that Isaiah has described, and that Jesus becomes. “The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” I wish the translators could use a different word than fear, which in English has all sorts of negative connotations that it doesn’t really mean. Better would be: his mercy is for those in awe of him from generation to generation.We might fear that we are not good enough, but we are in awe of the Creator of all things.

The Gospel today is John’s version of the story that we read from Mark’s earlier Gospel last week, and staying true to John’s very metaphoric and symbolic Gospel, he presents Jesus as ‘light’. Later on he even has Jesus say that he is the light of the world. John the Baptist’s job is to give testimony that Jesus is the light, the Messiah. The gospel writer presents John the Baptist using the words we read last week in Isaiah, and John describes himself as the one crying in the wilderness begging people to make straight the path for God. He again states that his baptism is just a symbol of the washing away of sin, but there is someone coming who will actually wash away sin, and who is so great that John is almost a nothing in comparison. The two versions, though written many years apart, are very complimentary.

So how can we apply this to our own lives this week. I would ask you this week to concentrate on being in awe of God. Think of creation, nature, beauty, art, and face the realization that God is over all these things. He really is, to use the phrase of many today, “awesome”! In appreciating the things of God, the wonders of God, the enormity of God and his universe, we might seem very tiny and insignificant. But, then realize that God really cares for each and every one of us – he goes after the one lamb who has strayed. We just need to repent, turn around and he will be there. So rejoice always, as Paul says, and keep in mind the really wonderful season we are almost through, as we await and awaken to that light that we remember each Christmas day, and that we await to lighten our lives again when Jesus comes in glory.

And that is the Advent Good News the Biblical writers suggest to us today!

Bishop Ron Stephens

Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA

The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)

[You can purchase a complete Cycle A and Cycle B of Bishop Ron’s homilies, one for every Sunday and Feast, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]